Researchers in the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning (CASTL) are conducting an experimental study to discover what happens when a teacher dedicates more time one-on-one with a preschooler who displays disruptive behavior.
Their strategy, called Banking Time, was developed by Robert C. Pianta, Curry School dean and CASTL director, and Bridget Hamre, CASTL associate director. It is an easy-to-implement set of techniques that help teachers invest in a positive relationship with a child. Three times a week, teachers in this study set aside time for 10- to 15-minute sessions over an eight-week period and let the child lead their play time together.
“Children who display hard-to-manage behaviors such as impulsivity, oppositionality, and aggression can be a challenge in the classroom, and it is easy to understand that teachers may be less likely to develop a close, sensitive relationship with a child who displays these disruptive behaviors,” said Amanda Williford, lead investigator on the Preschool Relationships Enhancement Project.
“In fact, for these teacher-child interactions are more often characterized by resistance, negativity, and conflict,” she added. “However, to the extent that teachers make intentional efforts to interact positively with these children on a regular basis, they can develop a strong and supportive relationship with them. Children and teachers can then draw upon this relationship capital in the classroom to help cope with and solve common challenges the children face, such as working on a frustrating task or managing conflicts with other children.”
Williford and her colleagues Jennifer Locasale-Crouch and Jessica Whittaker are conducting the first tightly controlled experimental research on the effectiveness of this approach. Funded by a grant from the National Center for Special Education Research, their project’s first year invited 34 preschool teachers in Charlottesville to learn the Banking Time strategy and implement it with three different children each over the course of the year.
Sarah Epstein was one of those local teachers. She said that Banking Time allowed her to interact differently with the children than she was usually able to.
“There are typically few times a teacher can focus attention on one child,” she said. “Especially in class with young children, your attention goes in lots of directions. You have to pay attention to all the children even when you’re talking to one of them. Children can feel neglected.”
Because Banking Time is not oriented to an instructional theme or goal or unit, she said, whatever the child wants to do is fine. Most things you do in the classroom are targeted toward your goals or the school’s goals, she said, but during this one-on-one time, she followed the child’s lead, imitating what the child did or describing what the child was doing. “So they would feel like I was on the same page with them,” she explained.
Epstein, who this year entered the Curry School counselor education program while still teaching part time at the preschool, believes that her relationship time with the children had an impact on them. “It’s important that children understand teachers care about them,” she said. Even though she is no longer participating in the research project, she has adapted some of the relational strategies she learned from Banking Time in her classroom practice this year.
Williford and her team are evaluating whether the Banking Time strategy is effective in reducing children’s problem behavior and increasing their ability to get along with peers. They especially want to know if these changes can be attributed to improvements in children’s relationship with their teacher and the teacher’s ability to be emotionally responsive to the children.
The research team is collecting information on three groups of teacher-child pairs: those using Banking Time, those spending a comparable amount of time one-on-one with children without using the Banking Time strategies, and those spending no regularly scheduled one-on-one time with children. The researchers are looking at how teachers conduct the Banking Time sessions, as well as how children behave and how the teachers and children interact in the classroom before, during, and after the eight-week Banking Time period.
The data collected from the Charlottesville teachers will be combined with the larger study to better understand the impact of Banking Time in a diverse sample of preschool settings. This year the researchers are working with 66 preschool teachers in Hampton Roads, Virginia, and with 26 teachers in the Greensboro, North Carolina, area. The range of school settings they are examining includes Head Start—whose students come from families with low incomes—and a mix of state-funded, private nonprofit, and private for-profit preschools. By the end of the four-year project, they will have tested Banking Time with a total of 184 teachers and 522 children.
By Lynn Bell